Monday, 25 June 2012

Shopping in Berlin is maximally munted

I don't mean this to come off as a massive whinge. One of the reasons I left Australia (albeit temporarily) was to get away from an endlessly-whining upper middle class complaining that governments weren't giving them enough free money. To turn into one of those horrid, self-entitled arseholes after leaving would make me very, very ashamed. Also, there is an awful lot that I love about Berlin. There's great, big heaving armloads of things to love. Too much for one man to hold in his manly arms!

But seriously, Berlin, shopping here is really fucked.

It's a long whinge, so settle in.

Point  #1: Multiple Trips. 

Yes, it is easy to buy vegetarian, gluten-free, fairtrade, vegan, and/or carbon neutral wanker things. What is blimming annoying, however, is that you can't get them all from the same place. 

The store situation in Germany seems to be one in which they all source and/or manufacture their own things. This often makes grocery shopping fantastically cheap while they all try to out-do each other. It also means that some places sell some things you want and other places sell the others. 

Luckily for us, there is a Bio-Company (where we buy our snooty things) directly opposite a Penny (where we buy our cheap things), and both are near to where we live. This makes it easy to pick up carbon-neutral soymilk and organic, gluten-free beer in the same trip in which we buy Mike Mitchell's American Sandwich Loaf and €2.50 six-packs of beers. 

But while Bio-Company specialises in organic guff and Penny specialises in bargain stuff, neither specialise in gluten-free. To get Vicky's special-needs bread and our pasta and pizza bases, we have to take an additional trip, in a different direction, to a Vitalia store. 

If we want to purchase gin, tonic, corn chips or those utterly splendid glutenfrei Almondy cakes, we have to go to Kaiser's. 

If we want to purchase fairtrade instant coffee, we have to go to Lidl (which I think is the best of the discount chains because they carry a whole range of fairtrade groceries and stock awesome fresh-baked bread daily). 

To buy Milo, we have to go to Australian Shopping World near the Australian embassy. 

Although all these little mini-shops are a bit convenient because we live in a shoe-box and our larder is a small overhead cupboard, I am getting flipping sick of it all. CAN'T YOU ALL JUST GET ALONG AND CREATE ONE STORE THAT CATERS ONLY TO OUR NEEDS?

But don't let Netto into your new alliance. Their stuff is truly horrible and not cheap enough to be worth it. 

Point #2: Brown Coins.

I was only a wee lad when Australia did away with one- and two-cent coins. I was a bit sad at the time because this made it more difficult to purchase 5 cents worth of carob whirls at the school canteen. Now that I am older and slightly wiser, however, I see the inherent wisdom in that move.

There are still one- and two-euro-cent coins. These are nothing but a gigantic pain in the arse. No machines accept them. Nowhere sells 5 cents worth of anything. All these coins are good for is leaving offensive tips and insulting buskers. Neither of these things are worth doing.

Their use is truly baffling. According to the internet, Australia did away with the coins by 1994. The Eurozone introduced them in 1999. WTF where they thinking? This whole Eurozone crisis would probably have been avoided had the worthless coins never entered circulation. If they did away with them, productivity would shoot through the roof. Sometimes at the supermarket I get stuck behind old ladies who count out precise amounts with shaking fistfuls of brown coins. It pisses everybody off, including the old lady, but what else can be done with the coins? 

I used to secretly dump these coins into cafe tip jars but for the last couple of weeks I've been holding on to my change. Look at what I've earned in a very short time. I still don't know what I'm going to do with them. 


Box of nerds added for size comparison. Note that with all the heavy coins pictured, I would not even come close to being able to purchase a box of nerds.

The supermarket checkout issues segue nicely into...

Point #3: no self-checkouts but no actual checkout assistance.

For a country so internationally recognised as efficient and precise, Germany has terribly inefficient checkout practices. In the first place, I am yet to come across anything resembling any sort of express/"X items or fewer" lane. This is damn annoying when I have only one bottle of gin and two bottles of tonic and am stuck behind an old lady buying a month's worth of groceries for her entire extended family in the hope that they will drop by for tea one day soon. Obvs, it is even worse when she drags out the coin sack to pay for the extensive purchase. But, as I mentioned before, it isn't her fault. If she weren't to spend the brown coins, who would?

Similarly baffling, in a country of electrical wizards, is the lack of self-checkout machines. Not only do you not have an express option, you must also purchase your embarrassing things from a real live person each and every time. I wouldn't mind so much, except that I really don't know why they are there at all. In Australia, at least, these checkout operators are also skilled at promptly stuffing your shopping bags for you, in an orderly and logical fashion. In Germany, as the goods roll toward them on the conveyor, the checkout operators simply make sure that each one is scanned, and then they couldn't care less about what happens next. Their only remaining task is to advise the total cost, which any numerate person could read on the screen (indeed, Vicky and I often do, thanks to the operators' propensity for mumbling amounts in incoherent German); and to take your money. There is no actual checkout "assistance" from these assistants.

In fact, sometimes, there is even a conveyor belt on the other side of the cashier, so there's no chance at all that he/she could be expected to bag your purchase up for you. No, it is whisked away from both of you---faster than it approached.

Whether there was a conveyor belt on the other side or a simple, tiny counter-let, Vicky and I used to panic-bag everything hodge-podge in an attempt not to hold everybody else up. We'd chuck everything into our totes and fling sweaty cash before anybody could roll their eyes.

Yes, we have since learned that the system is expected to work whereby you unload your trolley onto the conveyor, then chuck your stuff back into your trolley after it is scanned by the drones, then wheel off to a further counter where you can pack your bags at your leisure. We get it now. But it's still stupid. It's unnecessary treble-handling. Berlin, I have some ideas how we can speed-up and improve this process. 

Point #4: No Sunday Shopping. 

Like most of Perth, Berlin (and, from what I hear, most of Germany) has no Sunday shopping. Unlike most of Perth, this convenience-ban also extends to the city centre and small, independent shops. So few places are open that, if you really do need to buy any groceries at all on a Sunday, you only have one option. There's no IGAs. Instead, you get the equivalent of a servo without the petrol. It's all of the inflated prices and creepy counter guys with none of the selection. 

Apparently, the shops are closed on Sunday so that people can have a day off work and catch up with their friends and families. It's a nice idea. In fact, it's such a nice idea that they've made it really easy for you. You can catch all of the manned public transport options (on a regular, non-restricted timetable) to a staffed cinema, watch a movie, and then go to a cafe afterwards where human waiters will take your orders and deliver them to you and your friends so you can discuss the movie's themes in comfort. If you are having a good time, you could then move on to any number of staffed pubs/or restaurants to continue the conversation and good times. 

Yep, you can do pretty much whatever you like on the weekend, just so long as it don't make shop-front retail staff help you purchase things. 

Idiots. I can't buy a jar of instant coffee on Sunday but I can buy a labour-intensive flat white at a cafe instead.  

Point #5: Nowhere Sells Decent Lollies.

It's all Haribo and Trolli stuff everywhere, in every store. The shops all have their own range of oranges and kitchen towels but there is no option whatsoever for those who don't want to chew on brightly-coloured rubber garbage.

Okay, I think I'm done for now. 

17 comments:

  1. Take a deep breath and rejoice in the fact that Perth will have Sunday trading by (probably) August. You still can't drink within 3 metres of a pregnant woman however.

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  2. We are trying to put a care package together for you and Vicky, so let me know what sort of delicious Australians lollies and other things I should bring over for you!

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  3. I posted a comment yesterday. Where is it? (Wo bist es?)

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    1. keine Ahnung. I received the email notification that it had been posted but it never went up here. Perhaps it is stuck in a Berlin supermarket somewhere.

      Anyway, I will see if I can cut from the email and post posing as you. I have to try the same for another missing post, also

      Delete
  4. The "Panic Bag" scenario is something i might like to see. remind me to tell you about the woolies experience last week where the lady at the self service line was so bored she took my stuff from the trolley scanned it, bagged it...then put it back in the trolley for me again(Full trolley)

    i guess you dont need to remind you...thats basically it, though we did talk about how cold it was.

    :)Great Blog post.
    Chris

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    1. Thanks Chris. I think we will have to share stories soon. Sometimes in Berlin when the checkout lines are long, customers are allowed to buzz for a new operator to come along and twist the groceries as they roll over the scanner. We're not allowed to twist ourselves but at least they trust us with the buzzer button!

      ie, when the Berlin checkout staff are bored, they just walk off the job and muck around until they are summoned back!

      Delete
  5. Take a deep breath and rejoice in the fact that Perth will have Sunday trading by (probably) August. You still can't drink within 3 metres of a pregnant woman however.

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    1. I am both pleased and saddened.

      Did you know that in Oaklahoma, you are forbidden from washing your car on a Sunday if you're wearing wool underwear? It's even worse if you have an unusual haircut, apparently.

      Delete
  6. A bot in the place of Bec27 June 2012 at 06:56

    We are trying to put a care package together for you and Vicky, so let me know what sort of delicious Australians lollies and other things I should bring over for you!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Jeepers, you guys sure are nice!

      We will try to keep the list restrained.

      Delete
  7. I just wanted to say thank you for this post! I'm also an Auslander (though not a Australian one) in Berlin, and I really loved reading it - i think i share All your opinions here!

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    1. Hey, thank for posting a comment. It's really great to know that someone I don't know has read and enjoyed it. Cheers!

      By the way, what's you opinion on Asian and/or spicy cuisine here? I want to whine about that soon. And then I will do a list of all the fantastic things to even the balance (because it is awesome here).

      Delete
  8. I just wanted to say thank you for this post! I'm also an Auslander (though not a Australian one) in Berlin, and I really loved reading it - i think i share All your opinions here!

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  9. Hi!

    I will be reading your blog with an even closer eye in future... when I first found your work, my husband and I were, let's say, becoming suspicious... and now, we know... he has coeliac disease. So any glutenfrei advice and experience is very valuable to me :)

    Asian and spicy cuisince here Definitely deserves a whine! (I need to check if you've done that yet). My husband and I went to a Chinese just after we arrived (if only we'd been warned!) to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. We thought it was so Bad, we went to another restaurant the next weekend and had another attempt to celebrate. The German palette is Really Bland, and I *think* they have a special machine to suck all the flavour from things like chilli, lemongrass and also indian spices... haven't found a single nice, authentic SE Asian or Indian place yet. I've been recommended a thai place (with echt glutenfrei options on the menu!) so I'll let you know - think we're going there for my b'day in a couple of months.

    On the plus side! There's a great asian supermarket ("Timi", just off schloƟstrasse) near us, which sells a great range of flours which I can bake with (rice, tapioca, etc) and most importantly "Shan" spice mixes. These are great for a reasonably authentic curry (originally recommended by a Pakistani friend back in the UK) and easy to use (we always ignore the recipe and fry up the spice with some onions, then add water and throw in stuff like peppers, pumpkin, potato, chickpeas), then cook til done :) They also have thai curry pastes (talking of places near us, there's a fab cafe "Eis Voh" have you found it? near one of the U9 stops - does gluten free, cakes, lactose free cakes and icecream... wonderful, trust me). Also a plus, is the sushi (avoid the miso (definitely contains gluten!) and take your own gf soy sauce...) sushi is done well - and cheaply - in Berlin :) Oooh and also, have you found the thai food that's available in the park just off Fehrberliner platz? Awesome, properly authentic. Sadly, when I took my husband there, the only stuff we were sure was glutenfree was satay. He's allergic to peanuts! Not sure how vegetarian friendly the glutenfree options there would be, but the range might vary from week to wek, could be worth a look...

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    1. Oh, your poor husband. It must be really hard to be both coeliac and allergic to peanuts:( I think a whine about Asian food in Berlin will be coming soon...we've had some good stuff, but generally it's all a bit disappointing. I have heard of Eis Voh, but have never bothered to go check it out for myself. I definitely will now! Thanks heaps for the comment and the great suggestions:)

      Delete
  10. Hah, as an expat living in Berlin for four years and counting, your points still made me laugh out loud at times. Well written! And re: Sunday shopping: there is a nice, big supermarket at Ostbahnhof (Rewe) which is gloriously open the whole Sunday. So if you're ever stuck without groceries, that's the place to go.

    Also want to comment on the checkout assistants and packing: coming from Finland, after moving to Berlin it was a constant source of panic to try and instant-pack all my groceries on the spot. Now I've learned the "stuff your things back into the trolley and pack it later" lesson, but I still think we do it better in Finland: there is the conveyor belt that leads to the "packing area", which the assistant can separate into two or three different slots, so that after buying a trolley full of stuff, you can pack it at your leisure from your own compartment without a) stuffing it back in the trolley, b) annoying the hell out of the other shoppers or c) trying to separate your things from the weird stuff the person coming after you has bought.

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  11. Hah, as an expat living in Berlin for four years and counting, your points still made me laugh out loud at times. Well written! And re: Sunday shopping: there is a nice, big supermarket at Ostbahnhof (Rewe) which is gloriously open the whole Sunday. So if you're ever stuck without groceries, that's the place to go.

    Also want to comment on the checkout assistants and packing: coming from Finland, after moving to Berlin it was a constant source of panic to try and instant-pack all my groceries on the spot. Now I've learned the "stuff your things back into the trolley and pack it later" lesson, but I still think we do it better in Finland: there is the conveyor belt that leads to the "packing area", which the assistant can separate into two or three different slots, so that after buying a trolley full of stuff, you can pack it at your leisure from your own compartment without a) stuffing it back in the trolley, b) annoying the hell out of the other shoppers or c) trying to separate your things from the weird stuff the person coming after you has bought.

    ReplyDelete